The Hutchinson Report
Inglewood city officials get call to end deadly force use
Three things happened within the short space of a few days that could finally turn things around for Inglewood and its much embattled police department. The first thing was Inglewood city officials finally stepped in and said enough is enough. After four dubious police killings in four months that stoked community anger and contempt, embarrassed the city, and made Inglewood the poster police agency for police violence, city officials ordered the department to undertake a massive retraining program for its officers. Next, in response to swelling pressure, Inglewood Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks publicly disclosed just who the shooters were in the killing of the fourth victim, Eddie Felix Franco, a homeless man.
Naming names was not just an academic exercise. It enabled investigators and city officials to determine if the officers involved in the Franco killing were involved in any of the other dubious shootings. As it turned out two were. Those shootings, the circumstances surrounding them, and the officers involved should be looked at again to determine if they violated department policies on the use of deadly force and if any disciplinary action should be taken.
The multiple officer involved shootings is proof that the city desperately needs to put in place a tracking system that will tell what complaints were filed against officers, when and by whom, and most importantly, if any of the complaints involved the use of excessive force. The LAPD kicked and screamed but finally put into place a computerized tracking system which lets it keep better tabs on officers’ conduct in the field.
But tracking systems and retraining orders doesn’t address the glaring problem that dumped the Inglewood PD squarely on the hot seat. That’s the overuse of deadly force and in the Franco killing contagious fire. That’s when packs of officers blaze away at a suspect. Contagious fire results from panic, pandemonium, fear, confusion, and most importantly poor training.
When that happens anyone in or even out of the line of fire– motorists, pedestrians, and even the officers themselves–are in mortal danger. Contagious fire can at best be charitably described as overkill. The overkill slaying of Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo in New York, and the firing of hundreds of rounds at a motorist in Compton by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies in 2005 resulted in indictments, severe officer discipline, and anger and outrage from city officials. The overkill shootings also raised hard questions over training, tactics, command, discipline, and even the officers’ shooting skills. These were questions that New York police officials and the L.A. County Sheriff’s officials had to deal with. It forced police and city officials to totally reexamine and revamp their policies on the use of deadly force, or in these instances the gross overuse of it. It will force Inglewood police officials to do the same.
That will take a full-blown, sweeping revamp of training, policy, and discipline procedures that zero in on reducing the use of deadly force and the total prevention of contagious fire.
On Sept. 9, this writer presented a sweeping, comprehensive set of recommendations on police training, policies, and discipline to reduce the use of deadly force and eliminate contagious fire shootings by the Inglewood Police Department to Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn and Inglewood Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks. The report is entitled, “ Blueprint for Reducing the Use of Deadly Force Police and the Prevention of Contagious Fire by the Inglewood Police Department.” The report was prepared under the auspices of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable.
In addition, there are three ongoing investigations into the Wicks shooting as well as calls for a federal probe. The same calls have been made for investigations into the Franco killing. A fair and impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding police killings, and that certainly includes the Wicks and Franco slayings, must have one aim. That is to find out what went so horribly wrong that police had to resort to gunplay and then insure that there’s no repeat of the tragedy.
That being the case, it may take yet another set of eyes to look at a police department that’s clearly in trouble. This writer called on the House Judiciary Committee to look at the policies and practices of the Inglewood police department. The committee has the mandate to examine pattern and practice misconduct or deadly force overuse by police departments. This writer got a pledge from committee staff to formally request a pattern and practice investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division into the policies and procedures of the department on the use of force. That means finding out what’s wrong, in the case of the multiple shootings, terribly wrong, and fixing the problem. The family of Kevin Wicks, Edie Franco, Inglewood city officials, residents and importantly the Inglewood police department are owed that much.
The investigations and adoption of the Blueprint for reducing deadly force will be a giant step toward reducing the use of deadly force, saving lives and restoring community confidence in the Inglewood police department.
- Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).
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